CLEVELAND — It took almost 3½ quarters, but Kyrie Irving finally gave ESPN exactly what it wanted.
The Cavaliers point guard had 20 of his game-high 35 points in the last seven minutes Wednesday night to rally his team to a 105-100 victory over the New Orleans Hornets in front of 16,103 fans at Quicken Loans Arena and a rare national television audience.
“It comes from the trust my teammates have in me,” Irving said. “I make plays for them or myself. In the fourth quarter, when it’s winning time, obviously I want to win.”
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Cleveland (17-37) was down 76-74 when Irving checked back in with 7:08 to play and fell behind by four when the Hornets (19-36) immediately scored, but things changed in a hurry.
Irving made sure of it, scoring 18 of his team’s next 20 points in a span of just 4:56.
“You can kind of see it coming,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “He gets a little gleam in his eye.”
Irving’s run started with a pair of free throws at the 6:44 mark. Next came a 6-foot floater and free throw for a three-point play at 6:08, followed by a reverse layup at 5:42.
The 6-foot-3, 191-pounder then hit an 18-footer at 4:24, a heat-check 3-pointer in transition at 3:55, a layup off a turnover at 3:33, another layup at 2:14 and two free throws at 1:48.
Irving added two more free throws late in the game for 20 fourth-quarter points, one off his career high. The 20-year-old was 6-for-9 from the field, 1-for-2 on 3-pointers and perfect on seven three throws in the period, when the Cavs outscored the Hornets 37-31 and did not make a turnover.
“Kyrie was hitting shots from everywhere,” Scott said. “They really didn’t have an answer for him.”
Irving finished the night 13-for-22 from the field — he missed his first three shots — and added five rebounds and seven assists while playing 37 minutes in his first game after an extremely busy All-Star Weekend.
“I think he’s all right,” Scott said. “I don’t think he’s that tired.”
The game was billed as a meeting between the last two No. 1 picks in the draft, but New Orleans rookie Anthony Davis was on the bench for most of Irving’s game-deciding spurt.
The 6-10, 220-pound power forward finished with 12 points on 2-for-7 shooting from the field and 8-for-8 at the line, but had just four rebounds in 29 minutes.
After Irving, the second-best player on the court was often his running mate, Dion Waiters, who had 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
The Cavs also got 11 points from C.J. Miles and 10 points apiece from Tyler Zeller and Alonzo Gee, while Tristan Thompson had nine points and 13 rebounds. Thompson, who went head to head with Davis, was 2-for-8 from the field and 5-for-12 at the line.
“(The coaches) told me to just be aggressive, especially in the fourth quarter when it’s a close game like it was,” Irving said. “Luckily, a couple shots went in for me.”
Brian Roberts led New Orleans with 17 points off the bench on 7-for-8 shooting — he was 3-for-4 from long range — and Robin Lopez had 15 points but fouled out in just 16 minutes.
It looked like the Cavs were going to separate from the Hornets for good when Irving and Waiters combined for six straight points to put Cleveland up 66-56, but New Orleans came right back with a 12-0 run and led 69-68 heading into the final period.
“We just stopped playing,” Scott said.
The first half, which ended with the Cavs up 43-41, was a snoozer all the way around.
Irving came out extremely slow, committing two early turnovers and missing three shots before finally scoring with 1:52 left in the opening quarter.
Irving had seven points and four assists at halftime, but he also had three turnovers, one of which came when he double dribbled while under virtually no pressure.
The Cavs led at intermission because of their defense, which held New Orleans to .432 shooting from the floor (16-for-37) and forced nine turnovers that led to 11 Cleveland points.
On the negative side, Cleveland was outrebounded 23-15 over the first two quarters and attempted just three free throws, one of which came after the Hornets were called for illegal defense.
Behind a much more aggressive Irving, who also had eight points in the third period, the Cavs attempted 31 free throws in the second half.
“He just kind of put us on his back,” Scott said.
- WHO: Cleveland vs. Orlando
- WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
- WHERE: Amway Center, Orlando
- TV/RADIO: FS Ohio, Ch. 43; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.